Chapter no 16

Better Than the Movies

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

When Harry Met Sally

I lay on the couch like a lump, still wearing my prom dress but wrapped in a blanket. I’d just dropped onto the sofa when I came into the house and was mindlessly watching You’ve Got Mail in the dark while trying not to think about what was going on with Wes and Alex.

Kathleen Kelly was talking about Joni Mitchell’s “River,” and I was feeling every melancholy note of that masterpiece.

I’m selfish and I’m sad

Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby—

“Liz?” Helena stopped short of walking into the living room from the kitchen when she saw me, and put her hand on her chest. “Geez, you scared the crap out of me.”


She tucked her hair behind her ears, a tube of Pringles under her arm. “No worries. Why are you sitting in the dark?”

I shrugged. “Too lazy to turn on the light.”

“I see.” She cleared her throat and put her hands in the pocket of her hoodie, where I could see two cans of soda. “And prom?”

I waved a hand. “It was 1ne.”

She looked like she wanted to ask about it, but then she said, “Well, okay, then. I’ll leave you to your movie. G’night.”

I usually felt defensive when she asked about things in my life, but it felt empty not having her ask. I was embarrassed by the way I’d acted at the cemetery,

and if I was honest with myself, I’d missed her today.

I didn’t deserve it, but I wanted her to stay up with me. I was a little scared to ask, afraid of a rejection that I wholeheartedly deserved, but when she was almost to the stairs, I blurted out, “Do you want to watch it with me?”

I heard her steps stop before she came back into the room. “Oh my God, yes. I love this movie. Praise Jesus for the saviors that are Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.”

“I thought you hated rom-coms.”

“I hate cheesy, unrealistic romantic movies. But bouquets of newly sharpened pencils?” She plopped down beside me and sat crisscross applesauce, pulling the top oP the Pringles. “Be still my heart.”

We watched for a few more minutes before she said, “So prom.”

“Ah, prom.” I kicked my feet out onto the coPee table and snagged a chip. “Prom was like having your biggest mistake dressed up in pretty clothes and paraded in front of you with someone else.”

“English, please. I don’t get how that gibberish pertains to the pretty Mr.


I sighed. “It doesn’t. It’s… I don’t know, just forget it. I don’t want to think about it anymore.”

“Done.” She bit into a chip and said, gesturing at the TV, “This is the best

love triangle.”

“Um—it’s more of a love square, if it’s a love shape at all.” I chomped on a Pringle and said, “They’re just a foursome who fall apart on their own. None of them have to choose between the others.”

“I’m not talking about the two couples.” Helena pulled the sodas out of her pocket, handed me one, and opened hers. She slurped oP the can’s edge and said, “I’m talking about the triangle between Kathleen, her idea of who NY152 is online, and Joe Fox.”


“Think about it. She 1nds his online persona charming. She likes that he knows about ‘going to the mattresses.’ She envies his ability to verbally slay.” She leaned forward and set her can on the table. “The idea of this man is beautiful,

but in practice she thinks Joe Fox’s verbal slaying is mean, and when he goes to the mattresses and puts her out of business, she hates him.”

I blinked and opened my pop. “Holy crap—you’re right.”

“I know.” She grinned and did a little half-bow thing. “Sometimes we get so tied up in our idea of what we think we want that we miss out on the amazingness of what we could actually have.”

She was talking about the movie, but I felt seen. Wes had been right about one thing when he’d talked about my mom issues. It wasn’t intentional, but I had been living my life like I was one of her characters, like I was trying to act out the parts I thought she would’ve written for me.

I’d pushed him away and gone for the “good guy,” when in reality there weren’t only solid, dependable people and players with questionable intentions in the world. There were Weses out there, guys who broke the mold and blew both of those stereotypes out of the water.

He was so much more than a Mark Darcy or a Daniel Cleaver.

And then there were Helenas—smart, irreverent women who had no idea how to play the piano or tend to a rose garden, but they were always there, just waiting for you to realize you needed them.

“I mean,” Helena said, “she nearly let 152 pock marks go—can you even imagine?”

“Helena.” I blinked fast but it was impossible to clear my eyes. My voice sounded constricted when I said, “I’m so sorry for what I said to you before. For everything. I don’t want to miss out on what we could have. I didn’t mean it when I told you to butt out.”

“Oh.” Her eyes widened a little bit and she tilted her head. “It’s totally okay.” “It’s not.”

She gave me a hug and sniAed. “Just know that I don’t want to take your mom’s place. I only want to be here for you.”

I closed my eyes and felt something as I let her hug surround me. I felt loved.

And I knew at that moment that my mother would want this. Badly. She would want—above all else—for me to be loved. I said, “I want that too, Helena.”

We were both sniAing, which made us laugh. The moment melted and we returned to our spots, side by side on the couch. I decided as she wolfed down chips and got crumbs all over her stained hoodie that I was glad she was so diPerent from my mom. It was nice that the lines between them could never be blurred.

I cleared my throat. “Do you think it would be okay for me to call you my stepmom now?”

“As long as you don’t add ‘evil’ as a pre1x.”

“Why else would I want to say it, though? You have to admit that it’s a powerful title.”

“I suppose it is. And I do love power.”

“See? I knew it.” I glanced toward the sliding glass door by the kitchen, and my mind went to the Secret Area. I turned toward Helena on the couch and said, “So prom. Basically, the bottom line is that I went with the wrong guy.”

“Are you coming with my pop?” I heard my dad run down the stairs before he stepped into the room wearing Peanuts pajama pants and a T-shirt, smiling. Then he looked concerned and said, “Hey, hon, I didn’t know you were home already.”

“Yeah—I just got back.”

Helena pointed at my dad and gave me a look before saying to him, “Shh— she was about to tell me about prom.”

“Pretend I’m not here.” My dad plopped down in the small space between Helena and the sofa’s armrest, and he took a sip of her soda.

I rolled my eyes and told them about Laney and the realization that I had no interest in the guy that I’d thought fate had sent me. Then I had to tell them what a jerk I’d been to Wes after our kiss (except I said “date” so my dad didn’t freak), just so they understood how badly I’d screwed everything up. I pictured Wes’s face at prom, glaring at me, and I said, “So now it’s too late. He’s with a girl who adores him and doesn’t treat him like crap. Why would he ever want to look back from that?”

They listened to all of it before my dad smiled at me like I was unbelievably dense. “Because you’re you, Liz.”

“I don’t know what—”

“Oh, you don’t know, do you?” Helena dusted oP the front of her shirt and said, “That boy has been into you since you were little kids.”

“No, he hasn’t.” Her words made a hopeful buzzing start in my ears and 1ngertips, even though I knew she was wrong. “He’s been into messing with me since we were little kids.”

“Oh, you are so wrong. Tell her, hon.” Helena nudged my dad with her elbow. “Tell her about the piano.”

My dad put his arm around Helena and propped his feet on the coPee table. “Did you ever know, Liz, that Wes used to sit on the back porch and listen to you practice the piano? We pretended not to see him, but he was always there. And we’re talking way back when he was a little pain in the ass and you were awful at piano.”

“No way.” I struggled to remember how old we’d been when the piano had sat in the back room. “He did?”

“He did. And do you really think he cared about that parking spot you guys have fought over for the past year?”

“He de1nitely cared. He still does. That was what made him agree to help me.”

I thought about the rainy day in his living room when I’d 1rst suggested the plan. He’d seemed like a stranger that day, when I’d had to beg him to let me in. Cookies and milk, Wes’s cartwheels—it seemed like a lifetime ago.

“Liz.” Helena’s smile was obscenely large. “His mom lets him park behind her car. He always pulled in his driveway, but then out of nowhere, right about the time you got your car, he started parking in the street.”

My mouth fell open. “What are you saying?”

She smacked my arm and said, “And I’m not saying anything other than I think he was after that spot because he wanted a reason to talk to you. Do with that what you will.”

Was it possible? In a way, it was impossible to believe because he was out of my league. He was popular and athletic and ridiculously hot. I was supposed to believe that he had been into me before I’d even realized who he truly was? That he’d been into me for, like, a really long time? I dug my 1ngers into my hair and pulled a little. “I have no idea what to do.”

My dad went upstairs after that, but Helena and I watched the rest of the movie before going to bed. I’d just closed my door when Helena knocked on it. “Liz?”

I pulled it open. “Yeah?”

She was smirking at me in the dark hallway. “Be brave enough to go big, okay?”

“What does that mean?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Just… if you’re gonna do it, don’t skimp, I guess.”

Be brave enough to go big.

I kept replaying her words as I lay in bed. I tried sleeping, but between listening for Wes’s car and imagining all the things he and Alex might be doing, all I did was lie there being unhappy.

Until it hit me.

Be brave enough to go big.

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